Some 50 youth delegates from ASEAN countries recently participated in the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI): Generation Gr3en Workshop held in Brunei from February 25 to 28.

The workshop focused on eco-entrepreneurship,  with participants learning the fundamental principles of green-business development and its relationship to both community issues and economic development.

Sponsored by the US Department of State, and funded through a cooperative agreement between the US Embassy in Brunei Darussalam and AGREA Philippines, it was the first time Brunei hosted a regional workshop under YSEALI.

I was fortunate to be part of the workshop and made many new ASEAN friends. Here’s what some of them had say about Brunei.

1. Duong Nguyen, Vietnam

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Duong Nguyen (L) and other ASEAN friends cruising on a boat along Sungai Kianggeh. Photo: Courtesy of Duong Nguyen.

“Firstly I would like to say thank you to YSEALI’s organisers: US Embassy in Brunei and AGREA for offering me such an amazing opportunity to be part of the programme. Six days in Brunei were extremely memorable for me. I love Brunei’s untouched natural beauty. After the workshop, I am aware of simple but useful ways to save electricity and protect our environment, also the ways to make our lives more meaningful and beautiful. For the first time I have trekked into a pristine rainforest and explored various interesting things about eco-tourism. The trip to Brunei truly refreshed my mind and let me call it ‘a meditating getaway back to nature’.”

2. Sindy Marattanachai, Secretariat of Thailand’s House of Representatives

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Photo: Courtesy of Sindy

“It was my first visit to Brunei with YSEALI Generation Green. I have learned a lot from this peaceful country. What I bring back is forever appreciation through friendship with my new Bruneian friends. Brunei is a very peaceful country. The people have a respect for their diversity. It is easy for visitors to feel relaxed and immersed in their culture. I see Brunei as a country with plenty of valuable resources; not only the natural resources like the rainforests and the river which are well-protected, but also its people who are very generous and warm. The children in Thailand should have an opportunity to learn these good things from here as well. I really had a good time in Brunei and thinking of re-visiting soon!”

3. Putra Aditya, Indonesia

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Photo: Courtesy of Putra Aditya

“I love how I learned so much from Brunei after my visit, a country that I thought I knew all about such as the rich Islamic sultanate — but it is way more than that! As someone from a Malay-Minangkabau ethnic background, I found many similarities between Malay-Brunei cultures and ours. In terms of music, it is similar how the culture and religion go side by side (influencing each other). And the food too! With so many local kueh that are the same with ours, it made me miss my home in Sumatra. I also learned that being devoted to our Islamic faith doesn’t mean that we can’t live harmoniously with people from other religions. All I thought was Brunei is a strict Islamic country where everyone has to follow the Syariah law. For example, all women are required to wear hijab but it isn’t so! I also find Brunei a peaceful country with breathtaking nature and grandeur mosques where visitors can visit irrespective of their religion. I definitely will miss Brunei, especially with the hectic and chaotic (traffic) in Jakarta.”

4. Mark Harris Reberta Lim, Philippines

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“I fell in love with Brunei. The people, the culture and it’s warm welcome. I can say that it’s a remarkable visit and the moments were magical. Aside from the Philippines, this country will also be a home for me. This is ASEAN’s best kept secret, also worthy to be loved. Come visit Brunei and fall in love!”

 5. Liyana Yamin, student at University of Malaya, Malaysia

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Liyana (back row, L) and friends while at Tasek Lama Recreational Park in the capital. Photo: Courtesy of Liyana Yamin.

“My recent trip to Brunei has been one colourful personal experience. Brunei has amazed me in so many aspects. From the friendly and extremely English fluent locals up to their intriguing local food. But what captured my heart the most would be my hiking experience to Tasek Lama Recreational Park. I was immersed in the tranquility of the park. Listening to the waterfall, birds singing and monkeys swinging from one tree to the other. It was different from other parks that I’ve been to. Mother nature certainly has its sound of music to those who listen.”

6. Hoang An, student at Ho Chi Minh City University of Foreign Languages, Vietnam

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Hoang An (front) in a group photo with other participants of YSEALI Generation Gr3en. Photo: Courtesy of Hoang An.

“Brunei was truly an unexpected treasure for all ASEAN delegates. Thanks to YSEALI & AGREA, we experienced the green lifestyle of this beautiful country.  I will never forget our adventure to Temburong district in which we learnt about the eco-friendly operation and sustainable labour management of Sumbiling Eco-village. Following our enthusiastic guides, we gained more knowledge on flora and fauna while trekking in the pristine forest. Moreover, we enjoyed eating the local bamboo chicken and organic food. We also had the chance to wander around the capital for ‘Bandarku Ceria’ day with other ASEAN friends, which was an unforgettable moment.”

7. King Jehu II Q. Radaza, Central Mindanao University, Philippines

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Photo: Courtesy of King Jehu.

“My experience in Brunei Darussalam captures and illuminates my deepest sense of instinctive understanding and appreciation that there’s a positive correlation between the economic prosperity and environmental preservation. The culture of engaging people through a social enterprise in managing the natural resources in Brunei Darussalam is highly commendable. The world should recognise and learn from this beautiful and serene country. God bless Brunei Darussalam.”

8. Enggi Dewanti, Swisscontact CPP, Indonesia

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Photo: Courtesy of Enggi

“Brunei… is full of nice surprises. The people, the forest, and the traffic! It looks like the weirdest combination, but it works in Brunei. Thank you for hosting us!”

9. Yann Nguyen, YMCA Ressource Group on the Environment, Vietnam

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Photo: Courtesy of Yann Nguyen

“Brunei is a place that still preserves its tradition while being modern at the same time, same goes in preserving its nature in urban areas. I enjoyed every single moment while in Brunei, and I am always amazed at every place I get to visit. And of course with the warm locals that have become my friends.”